Analyzing Gautam Gambhir's comeback: Is it all over for him?
When Gautam Gambhir walked out to the middle against the Kiwis, donning the Indian whites for the first time since August 2014, there was quite a bit of unrest among the crowd. Whether the Delhi man would score a healthy amount of runs, in possibly the only chance he might get before being dropped, was a question looming in every fan's head.
It looked like Gambhir had a chunk of that in his mind as well. In just the 4th over of the Test, Gambhir pulled Henry for back to back sixes. This is certainly not a sight uncommon these days, but for Gambhir, it is.
He had hit just eight sixes in 100 previous Test innings. He was never the kind to take it all out on the opposition at the start of an innings; he was more the wait-and-strike kind of guy. The twin sixes tell a story – this was a different Gambhir, who was looking to get on top of the opposition early on.
But was it really the wisest thing to do? In hindsight, his character echoed somebody else who would do that, somebody who is not in the scheme of things any more.
In the 2013 IPL, Indian cricket fans were witness to a shocking sight. In a match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals, Gambhir, the Kolkata captain, was seen exchanging words with the legendary Rahul Dravid. Not once, but twice.
It did Gambhir's popularity no good. Dravid was godly; he wasn't to be sledged, certainly not by an Indian cricketer.
This was in the aftermath of another spat with Virat Kohli in the previous edition of the IPL. Gambhir was known to be outspoken and always ready for words, as his famous confrontation with Kamran Akmal of Pakistan showed, but these exchanges were against his own countrymen and they were certainly not taken kindly by the media or the fans.
Yet, there is something uncharacteristic about this guy that the fans love. After all, he is one of the main architects behind India's World Cup win in 2011. He was the one man who could make a stall at the other end while the much loved Virender Sehwag went about destroying the opposition attack.
Gambhir and Sehwag
Gambhir and Viru were too good to be separated. They complemented each other perfectly. Viru did not need a non-striker who would just defend all day; he needed someone who could rotate the strike frequently while treating himself to some boundaries.
Gambhir was all of that and more. He even outpaced Sehwag at times – not with the wild slog you would associate with players now, but with proper cricketing shots.
Gambhir was never a six-hitting guy. He wasn't Sehwag-like or Gilchrist-like. The Delhi lad went about his task differently. The only time you would see him step out in the power play overs would be to smash the ball inside out over extra cover, one of his favourite shots.
He did not have a strong technique or powerful arms to slog. What he had was grit, and plenty of that.
For a guy like Gambhir, a comeback match was inevitable. After being dropped from the Indian team following a drought of runs in 2014, Gambhir was frustrated and angry.
He took it all out in domestic cricket. In the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy, Gambhir scored 736 runs at an average of 52.57 with two hundreds. But it wasn't enough to earn him a comeback; a certain Shikhar Dhawan and the rock solid Murali Vijay stood in his way.
Both were young and much like Sehwag and himself. Dhawan followed up a dream debut against the Aussies with critical knocks to help India win the Champions Trophy. Vijay, meanwhile, was scoring truckloads of runs including hundreds outside the sub-continent. Surely, Gambhir's time was up.
But this was Gautam Gambhir, the only Indian and one of four international cricketers to have scored five hundreds in five consecutive Test matches. He is the only Indian batsman to have scored more than 300 runs in four consecutive Test series.
Under Gambhir's captaincy, the Kolkata Knight Riders won their maiden IPL title in 2012, and they repeated their triumph again in 2014. Fellow Indian team-mate, and his opening partner Viru, called Gambhir "the best Indian opener since Sunil Gavaskar".
All of this was the past though, and the fans were too immersed in the Dhawan-Vijay partnership to even remember the tough Delhi man. Besides, he was the arrogant player who 'sledged' Dravid. He surely wasn't a crowd favourite.
But thankfully for him, he knew how to step up when required. This was the man who had scored back to back double hundreds against visiting sides in 2002 to stake his claim for a place in the Indian team. He was all about determination and hard work.
Even when the young Lokesh Rahul slowly made his name as the backup opener, Gambhir was undeterred. He continued to amass runs in the Ranji Trophy, waiting for an opportunity. When it did come, there was a touch of uneasiness. The uncharacteristic double blows in the fourth over showed an eagerness to prove a point.
The new stance
Gambhir has also changed his stance to prevent his front foot from going too far across, opening up his stance altogether. This new stance has opened up the leg side for him, both off the front foot and back foot.
The pulls for sixes were a result of this new stance. It has also allowed him to play the short ball well on both sides of the pitch. Gambhir's comfort against the short ball was evident right from the start of his innings.
The only flip side to his newfound stance, as highlighted by Gambhir's wagon-wheel, is that it limits the batsman from playing the full ball through covers and mid-off – an area he previously thrived in.
Surprisingly, New Zealand quicks did not spot the open option, instead peppering him with short balls, until Trent Boult set things right by bowling full, causing Gambhir discomfort.
Over no 1.2 Matt Henry to Gautam Gambhir
Good length delivery from over the wicket slanted across the left hander. Gambhir, back after two years, shoulders arms and lets it through to the keeper.
Over no 13. 1 Trent Boult to Gautam Gambhir
Tight length from the left arm seamer from over the wicket. Gambhir stays in his crease and defends watchfully, eyes glued to the ball.
Gambhir will need more than this one innings of 29 to cement his place back in the side. Time is not in abundance for this sublime left-hander. Lokesh Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, who are a lot younger than him, after returning from their respective injuries, will walk right back into the team if Gambhir does not step it up in the second innings.
His fans will hope that it will not be his last.